PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama last week announced a plan to weed out inefficient and bloated federal programs.
He has nominated a "chief performance officer" to "scour this budget, line by line, eliminating what we don't need, or what doesn't work."
We can spare Nancy Killefer, the nominee, some bureaucratic scullery work and save $200 million a year for the taxpayers: eliminate federal funding for abstinence-only education programs.
Only the people who collect a paycheck from them say that they work. Yet another scientific study, released last month, says the programs don't lead to more sexual abstinence - and actually may lead to more unsafe sex, which means more unwanted pregnancies and more sexually-transmitted diseases. And we surely don't need that.
The study looked at data from a study that followed teenagers for several years, and compared young people with similar religious beliefs and values. She found that young people who took "virginity pledges" were just as likely as their peers to have premarital sex, but they were less likely to use condoms or other forms of birth control.
The latest findings confirm previous research. Yet the U.S. government has continued to pour money into abstinence-only education, a total of $1.5 billion so far. So it shouldn't come as a shock that, after a 14-year drop, teen birth rates have increased in 26 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
(According to the CDC report last week, Pennsylvania's rate stayed essentially the same, which may be due to increased and better use of condoms, emergency contraception, and use of more effective, long-term birth control methods. That's why it defies common sense - and ethics - that Pennsylvania's Health Department is now serving as a conduit for federal abstinence-only funding.)
The best method for preventing teen pregnancy is no mystery; Western Europe figured it out long ago. Comprehensive sex education and access to contraception has resulted in significantly lower teen pregnancy rates, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases there. The nonprofit organization Advocates for Youth says that if the United States could bring down its teen birth rate to that of the Netherlands, for example, it would mean 617,000 fewer pregnancies here, and a first-year saving of $542 million.